April 12, 2010

Hail to Blogging


Today it’s more important than ever that we have independent, decentralized flows of information and commentary, and new ways to organize. The existing media and political organizations are corrupt and malicious, and seek only to stifle all public interest discourse and activism.
The one great promise of the internet which has so far been kept is how it would provide a new democratic space. It’s true that today this is the most capacious public space left in an otherwise increasingly enclosed world, and the only real bastion of participatory democracy left. Those of us who still value positive freedom, true political freedom, must cherish and exploit this great space while it exists, and fight to ensure that it continues to exist.
When we look back at the American Revolution today it’s striking how similar the atmosphere and modes of political communication were. Back then they had printing presses while today we have blogs and alt media sites. But the basic parallel of a decentralized dissemination of political ideas and calls to action, avidly devoured and debated, sparking a brush fire which riled itself up into a conflagration, is one we can look to with hope.
The basic literary form is the same – the pamphlet. Political blogging is simply old-style pamphleteering. The versatility and robustness of the form have proven themselves since Roman antiquity, and the pamphlets played a major role in preparing the Revolution in America. Common Sense, the Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, the Four Letters on Interesting Subjects, and many others take their place as actions of history and weapons of freedom.
Meanwhile the MSM is corrupt and dishonest, and financially moribund. Ad revenues, already in a free fall for years, continue to plummet. Some are even asking if blogging is “winning” a fight against the corporate media. I don’t think bloggers in themselves can assault the establishment media. But the MSM is caught in a vise of its own design. It exalted the predatory corporate model and shilled for it, hoping to be a well-paid prostitute. But by its very nature corporatism has no gratitude or forbearance for sluggish performers. As it perceives its stranglehold to be secure, it won’t feel as much of a need for a pseudo-independent media to serve as a propaganda wing, if this is more expensive than using the government as a direct extortionist. Plus, it’s in the very nature of corporatism to liquidate every weak link by bleeding it even more vampirically. So it was predictable that as soon as advertiser-driven media found itself in any kind of financial difficulty, that advertisers would rush to lowball them. If I’m the ad buyer I figure, if you as a newspaper are charging too high an ad rate, I bet your competitor will offer me a lower one. You guys need me more than I need you.
So the MSM’s race to the streetwalking bottom hasn’t availed them. It’s only made their position worse and worse. (One of the few good pieces of Schadenfreude in this whole mess has been the poetic justice being visited upon the MSM. The way they’re an ongoing object lesson in how appeasement and prostitution don’t work.) Meanwhile the other grip of the vise is how, as the corporate media’s coverage is so obviously rank propaganda, the people no longer believe or value it, and become ever less willing to pay for it. (I sure never would.) Here’s where bloggers and the alternative media can come into the picture.
The blogs become more popular as, at their best, they offer the only outsider, non-corporatized point of view on the idiocies and crimes which afflict us. Here’s where the people can find the real discussion and the real truth-telling they will never get from the corrupted government, media, or academia. Here’s the first space where the power structure is completely collapsing, where power is falling back into the people’s hands as an unrefined glop, and where we have the chance in refine it anew for the sake of freedom and the public interest. That’s the essence of a revolutionary situation.
And there’s the sense in which, if blogs and alternative websites can maintain their integrity, refine this new people’s power and and cohere to a movement, that this could be a force fighting the powers that be, even something that could battle and “win”. So in that dialectical sense we may someday be able to talk about independent media winning against the corporate media.
But this is no freedom idyll. There are great threats on the horizon, and if our freedom isn’t vigilant today it may have no tomorrow. The most obvious threat to the integrity of the blogs is astroturfing. Today we survey the wreckage of the great dream of the “progressive” blogosphere, which arose as a veritable anti-Bush resistance movement. It claimed to oppose Republican ideas and policies, and many believed it. Today we know most of these bloggers were liars, that they were really partisan Democratic hacks who never opposed any Bush policy (corporatism, war, assault on civil liberties, secrecy, imperial presidency, just to name a few examples) but only that it was Republicans doing it.
We must take to heart the lesson of this disaster. The blogosphere cannot achieve its own emancipation so long as it remains ideologically beholden to any aspect of the existing system. By definition a blog that supports, for example, the Democratic party is not part of the blogosphere but an appendage of the corporate system trying to extend its hedges of enclosure into the blog space. This isn’t a picayune matter of “opinion”, but a structural feature of the age. One can be on the side of corporatism or of freedom, but never both, nor is any mediation possible.
Another threat is that the net sector may follow the usual processes of media consolidation and feudal calcification. Although what’s been called the “gated community” model of the online experience as envisioned by AOL, Compuserve and others was temporarily defeated in favor of a more freewheeling, decentralized setup, that’s no guarantee that it won’t still be the eventual victor. Every other sector ends up that way. Closely related to this is the critical net neutrality issue, where America just suffered a setback in a court decision which sided with the tollbooth tenders. According to what I read this was actually based on a technicality which can easily receive a technical fix (assuming this administration is willing to make such a fix, which I don’t assume; net neutrality’s yet another place where Obama has said all the right things, but we’ll see about the actions). But we should take it as a shot across the bow. Even if this decision was on a technicality, there are plenty of rogue corporatist courts which won’t need technicalities to serve as goons for the telecoms. (The scary thing with this issue is that, so far as I can see, we’re still in the hands of federal regulation and the noblesse oblige of companies like Google. I’m not sure how relocalization works where it comes to the activism of internet freedom.)
Then there’s the specter of censorship. Google’s recent (if belated) stance against Chinese censorship looks like a rare bright path in an otherwise blackening sky. If Yahoo and Microsooft went all in on collaboration with the Chinese government, there’s little reason to believe they wouldn’t do the same at home, as fascism becomes more overt. Thoroughgoing online censorship is already the order of the day in Australia. Meanwhile here in America we have Obama cadre and “supreme” court hopeful Cass Sunstein’s battle plan for the full castration of the unruly net. (Sunstein, a totalitarian by nature, has hated the internet since its inception. He instinctively hates anything that’s not dictated from the top down. He speaks in classical totalitarian code, claiming to want to use his “nudges” for the sake of democracy, when in practice they would always serve the corporate interest. It’s the same thing as with the “logic” of alleged speech activists who supported Citizens United.) The MSM are already enlisting in this war on the blogosphere.
That’s direct censorship. But there’s also the soft censorship of the economics of online access. Just as free speech in general is corrupted wherever monetized, so as the Depression sets in and fewer people can afford online access, the democratic promise of the internet will dissipate in the wind as it becomes a de facto gated community, rationed according to ability to pay. This makes it all the more critical that we maintain our libraries, which for many among the ever-expanding ranks of the poor provide the only opportunity to go online. By definition you can’t have a democracy where access in itself requires purchasing a ticket. (But libraries are being gutted as well.)
And then there’s the robustness of the internet itself. The system requires tremendous energy inputs, for its normal operations and infrastructure maintenance. As Peak Oil sets in and energy becomes ever more expensive, we’ll have yet another economic barrier to access, as well as instability in the physical system itself. Would fortresses of the rich, using their self-contained solar and wind systems, be able to maintain their own feudalized version of the web (I assume they wouldn’t be able to string wires from compound to compound)? Where would the spare parts come from? I suppose if things ever reach that extremity than the idea of democracy we’re talking about will be a moot point. But we can envision less complete manifestations of the problem. Just as we’ve already seen spot shortages of gasoline like in the Southeast in 2008, so we can expect to see increasing brownouts and blackouts as the system experiences problems with upkeep and delivery. Such blackouts will, of course, be manipulated for the benefit of the rich. (For example, the Giuliani administration in NYC was accused of browning out poor neighborhoods during the hottest times of summer to make sure there would be enough juice to run the air conditioners in rich neighborhoods.)
So there’s a rundown of the blogosphere’s democratic possibilities and the threats it faces. I know we don’t need more stuff to have to think about, but for the time being we’re unlikely to make progress on any point if we can’t discuss it online freely and in great numbers. So in that sense an issue like net neutrality is a preconditional issue.
In spite of the stumbles, in spite of the betrayals, we have a blogosphere growing in vibrancy and strength. If we want this growth to stay robust, this health to overflow, we’ll have to fight for that as well.
Here again we must achieve the vigilance of freedom. 


  1. When a grammar-lapse appears on a Volatility blog, –
    ‘But by its very nature corporatism he no gratitude or forbearance for sluggish performers.’
    I feel tempted to make a comment in order to seek clarification.

    However, my comment today is actually a suggestion that Russ take a look at Bill Mitchell’s blog- billy blog…alternative economic thinking –

    Dr Mitchell is an Australian economist and proponent of MMT (modern money theory) who proffers short lessons via his entertaining (grammatically, unchecked and perhaps occasionally deficient) weekday sessions. On weekends, he formulates quizzes to aid the reader’s understanding.

    My impression is that Russell presents his daily comments (lessons) in a comprehensive fashion such that his style mimics that of a good teacher. The occasional poems have some significance which I have yet to fathom; are/could they be related to recent blogs? I continue to wonder whether there is some direction to which Russell is pointing.

    Comment by William Wilson — April 14, 2010 @ 7:07 am

  2. The typo’s fixed, thanks.

    I’ve been to the Billy Blog a few times, when it was linked from Naked Capitalism. Good stuff.

    (This link, though, didn’t bring up any content, but just the header.)

    I didn’t know about the quizzes. I’ll have to check it out. (I do love quizzes if they’re well done.)

    William, is that analysis a quote from somewhere, or is that you saying that?

    I hope I can function as a kind of teacher. My direction is that I hope for a revival of human freedom and community, positive democracy, and a renewed public spirit, as a light a guide us out of the labyrinth of darkness we’ve been led down.

    The poems are there because I write poems and post them for anybody who might want to read them. They don’t have to carry any special significance, unless a reader thinks they do.

    Comment by Russ — April 14, 2010 @ 10:25 am

    • I just wondered whether the idea of creating quizes might become a useful technique should you wish to wish to use it as a teaching tool. The approach that Dr Mitchell employs seems to satisfy him/his readers; I have found them useful learning exercises as I consider myself a sort of student of economics/money related matters these days. However, quiz creation can also be useful for a teacher who wishes to bring more focus to his/her students/readers. I sort of wondered about the intentions of your poetry and was unsure whether there were supposed to present concepts/ideas intended to be related to blog content. I think the rhyming of certain types of poems could represent a variant of the quiz strategy; alternatively, cross-word creation might be another variant. On the other hand, this all may be too far off topic, so I will leave the subject for now.

      Comment by William Wilson — April 15, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

      • No, not off-topic at all. Those are some interesting ideas. I’ve had some vague thoughts along those lines myself.

        I guess the poetry is related to the political content in the sense that both register a discontent with the status quo, with a degrading world, and the hope to find a better path.

        Comment by Russ — April 16, 2010 @ 5:00 am

  3. I like the poems, Russ. And you’re a good teacher. I’ve learned a lot in the couple of weeks I’ve been here. It’s really strange in that you write on a PHD level, yet I still get the idea behind what you’re saying. And if I don’t quite get it, so far you’ve always found a way to get it past my 386 chip-powered brain. You really are gifted at simplifying complicated ideas and problems.

    Comment by Bloodgroove — April 14, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

  4. Thanks, Bloodgroove.

    Comment by Russ — April 15, 2010 @ 3:19 am

  5. Maybe I have come to the right place..I have heard much about Cass Sunstein, the FCC and net neutrality. I went to the EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation)website for clarification and became even more confused. It seems to mean different things to different people. What are the real ramifications of net neutrality?

    Comment by Jessica — April 16, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

  6. I’m no expert on it yet either, Jessica, though I intend to learn more.

    But basically it means that the corporations who own the transmission system for the Internet (the “pipes”) want to be able to give preferential (and thus much faster) transmission to websites who pay protection money, while relegating those who pay less or don’t pay to the slow-transmission ghetto.

    It’s like as if, even though you pay for telephone service, the phone company could discriminate in the quality of the calls you make or are made to you based upon whether or not the other party also pays, and how much they pay.

    So picture your calls to e.g. the bank going through nice and clear, while your calls to your mother are full of static, or have a delay, or don’t go through at all.

    Obviously, this favors the rich and big corporations and disadvantages everyone else.

    That’s what looms on the web if net neutrality isn’t enshrined.
    Net neutrality is the principle and practice that these feudalists can’t set up this toll booth, that they have to treat all transmissions equally.

    That’s been the practice so far, but it’s not firmly enshrined in law. The telecom companies want to do away with it. That’s one of the issues the system’s dealing with now. This is yet another issue where Obama has said good things, and yet again we wonder if this time he might possibly follow through.

    I suppose since the Internet is so “cool”, and cool companies like Google support net neutrality, maybe for once Obama might pick the right side. But I’m not gonna get my hopes up. The FCC already looks to be wobbling on its Broadband Plan in the wake of an adverse court decision.

    I’m planning to write another post on this in the next few days, so I’ll save more for there.

    (Like I said, I don’t know alot about this yet, so if anyone thinks I got any part of that wrong, let me know.)

    Comment by Russ — April 16, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  7. I am still trying to understand why conservatives are screaming about a trojan horse. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is “libertarian” in its approach to the internet and they favor net neutrality except how it is currently being proposed by the FCC.

    Comment by Jessica — April 16, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

    • Thanks for that link. I see what you mean about different definitions.

      Judging just by that short piece, the FCC wants to smuggle all kinds of censorship criteria under its broad “net neutrality” rubric.

      So here the EFF’s emphasis isn’t on the broad anti-corporatist and socioeconomic nature of net neutrality but a more specific censorship issue. And they’re referring to that as the core net neutrality issue. I don’t know if that’s their normal stance or not. If so, it would be correct in itself but too limited. I have to read more about it.

      Comment by Russ — April 17, 2010 @ 2:47 am

  8. yo wat is ur MySpace site?

    Comment by waht does my name mean? — April 27, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

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